Recently, I learned that in some academic circles students are taught that ‘Christian privilege’ allows Christians to enjoy certain rights and advantages not easily accessible to non-Christians. True or not, those who propound this position find it scandalous.
How does one respond to such a charge?
One response is sociological and relates to the inherent danger of multiculturalism. To the extent that multiculturalism engenders diversity and tolerance, it is a good. However, in a secularizing society, it can lead to indifferentism, that insidious creed which pronounces all systems of belief equally valid (or invalid). Left unchecked, indifferentism transmogrifies into intolerance since – ironically – difference and diversification come to be perceived as threats to uniformity and are therefore not to be tolerated. It’s akin to the practice in some schools where grades have been abandoned so that no pupil is recognized as academically superior to his peers. Aspiration for excellence is smothered by the weight of uniformity. Perhaps those who decry ‘Christian privilege’ object to the diversity it implies.
A second response touches on the logical. If being Christian is a privilege, it is a privilege that comes with responsibility (to say nothing of the cost of martyrdom). Christians are expected to care not just for one another but for all people. Jesus said the world would know his disciples by how much they love (John 13:35). Such concern for human dignity logically creates community and community provides support and solidarity which in turn foster personal development (health, education, stewardship, justice, etc.). If such personal development is a privilege, it is not scandalous as it is the logical fruit of Christian commitment.
A third response is perhaps the one which will most provoke those who subscribe to the scandalous privilege of Christianity. It is the theological one. Certainly, to be given the gift of life is a privilege all mankind enjoys. But, to be a Christian is to be baptized (‘christened’) into the Mystical Body of Christ. It is to be the recipient not just of the divine grace that blesses all humanity but of the sanctifying grace received through the sacraments. As such to be Christian is to be invited to share more intimately in the redeeming sacrifice of Jesus Christ. A privilege indeed!
The concept of the scandal of Christian privilege brings to mind a theological phrase its proponents would find even harder to swallow, i.e. the scandal of particularity. Why did Yahweh particularly choose Abram (later Abraham) to introduce monotheism to the world? Why did God particularly choose a young Jewish virgin to be the mother of his Son? Why does salvation come through the Jews?
Ironically, there is a legitimate scandal associated with the privilege of being Christian, one touched on by Jesus’ admonition that of those to whom much is given much will be asked. Availing ourselves of the blessings so richly bestowed on us, do we Christians live such exemplary lives that others are enticed to embrace the Good News the Lord has mandated be carried to the ends of the earth? Not doing so is our scandal.
A joyous Eastertide to all of you and a Blessed Passover to our “Elder Brothers!”
Dana Robinson is chair of the Board of Trustees of the National Catholic Community Foundation.